Check against delivery.
Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.
We have now administered almost 130,000 doses of vaccine, and have fully immunized about 37,000 Albertans.
I am pleased to say that 71% of residents of long-term care and designated supportive living have now received both doses of vaccine.
These people are most at risk of severe outcomes, and the rest will receive vaccines in the coming weeks, according to their immunization schedule.
Others who are 75 and over who live in supportive living sites not in the designated category will be offered immunization when enough vaccine arrives to begin the seniors’ immunization rollout.
Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 339 new cases of COVID-19, and completed more than 10,800 tests.
Our positivity rate currently stands at about 3.2%.
I continue to ask all Albertans to stay home and get tested if you experience even minor COVID-19 symptoms, or if you are a close contact of someone with COVID-19.
Testing is important to be able to understand how the virus is spreading in the province.
There are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 303 schools, or about 13% of schools in the province.
Currently these schools have a combined total of 867 cases since January 11th.
Overall, we have detected 16 new variant cases in the province thanks to our aggressive testing of the vast majority of new cases. This includes new cases linked to a school.
We were informed today that there are now two cases of variant COVID-19 where in-school transmission is likely the source.
I am aware of seven classes in six schools overall where a variant case has attended while infectious and despite rigorous follow-up, this is the first time in one of these schools that we have identified variant transmission occurring in that location.
Health officials are responding and making sure that anyone who is at risk is in quarantine and being offered testing twice.
We are being extremely cautious to protect the health of everyone involved and to limit any future transmission.
Just as our currently dominant strain of COVID-19 occasionally spreads in schools, we will identify examples of variant transmission as we are sharing today.
However, knowing about variant cases means we can limit further spread, and the majority of in-school exposures so far have not led to transmission.
Fortunately, we continue to see a decline in our hospitalizations. There are 421 people in hospital, including 77 in the ICU.
While this is well below our peak in December, it is still about 5 to 7 times higher that our total during the spring and summer.
We will continue to watch these numbers, as well as our leading indicators of positivity rate, case numbers, and growth rate over the next few weeks.
Over the last 24 hours, 6 new deaths were also reported to Alberta Health.
My sincere condolences go to the families, friends, neighbours and caregivers grieving the loss of these individuals, and to anyone mourning the loss of someone they loved for any reason.
I know that the restrictions needed to limit the spread of COVID-19 make it difficult to mourn in the ways we usually would.
That is one of the reasons that, today, I’d like to talk briefly about mental health and self-care.
The pandemic has made countless aspects of our lives more difficult than before.
Every Albertan has been impacted in different ways.
It’s not surprising that the past year has taken a toll on mental health and wellbeing of many of us across the province, across the country and around the world.
It’s now been over 11 months since COVID arrived in Alberta.
In many ways, we’ve each gotten used to parts of our new normal – wearing masks, physical distancing, washing our hands.
But that doesn’t mean these things don’t continue to impact our mental well-being.
Isolation, staying distanced from one another, financial hardships, remote learning, teleworking, keeping up with new information and coping with sickness and death impacts all of us.
Last fall, the Health Quality Council of Alberta released the results of a survey of Albertans’ experiences during the pandemic.
Its findings are not surprising:
- 70% of Albertan respondents reported feeling stressed out,
- 46% expressed loneliness,
- And more than half felt that their mental health had gotten worse.
Similarly, a national Canadian Mental Health Association survey in December found 40% of Albertan respondents felt their mental health had deteriorated since the onset of the pandemic.
Today, I want to remind all Albertans to take care of their mental health.
The physical symptoms of COVID and the physical aspects of the pandemic are visible, but our mental health can sometimes suffer in silence.
It’s important to look after your own health and well-being.
Try not to ignore, avoid or suppress anxious thoughts.
Instead, be aware of your anxiety and acknowledge when you’re feeling anxious about a situation.
Then use a strategy that works for you to address that feeling, whether it be exercise, talking to a friend or your doctor, or making sure you are getting enough sleep.
If you feel like you need help, don’t wait to reach out.
No matter the challenge you or a friend or family member may be facing, I want you to know you are not alone.
Help is available and there are safe ways to get the support that you need.
Mental health services and residential addiction treatment for those with substance use disorder continue to operate, with the appropriate safety protocols in place, to ensure that help is available while staying protected from COVID-19.
Free, confidential, non-judgemental support is available 24-7 through a variety of service providers in the province and across Canada.
For children and youth, there’s the Alberta Youth Mental Health Hub online and the Kids Help Phone.
For adults, there’s Alberta’s Mental Health Helpline, which offers around-the-clock confidential support.
The Addiction Helpline also provides confidential support for alcohol, tobacco, drugs and problem gambling.
There is also Togetherall, a free online network that offers Albertans 16 years of age and older with anonymous, peer-to-peer mental health services 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Phone numbers and details about these services and other resources, are available on ahs.ca/helpintoughtimes.
During these tough times, it’s especially important to stay connected with friends and family.
This is absolutely the time to lean on each other.
Helping others cope with stress through phone chats or video calls can help you and your loved ones feel less lonely or isolated.
Each of us can also play a key role in supporting our family and friends.
We can be there to listen, to offer advice or to help connect them to professional supports.
There is great power and compassion in reaching out to find out how someone is holding up during these cold, dark days of winter.
Never underestimate the impact we can all have by showing others that we genuinely care.
Because it is more important than ever that we continue caring for each other in every way.
Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.